ROSS GARNAUT IS WELL-RESPECTED in both Australia and Papua New Guinea. He should be thankful that PNG has helped him build his profile and put him where he is now – one of Australia’s most influential individuals.
However, among the many hats he's been wearing, Climate Change and Mining are two challenging and paradoxical items of headgear.
One could ask whether the good professor has become a sacrificial lamb for the gigantic multinational corporations or whether he has he misled himself in career path and academic discourse by mixing his values?
Of course, losing the Ok Tedi chairman’s job won’t make leave him to starve, since he is already rich after the prominence and wealth his many ‘top jobs’ have given him over the many decades of a prolific life.
His real loss now is the fallout of the saga created by the O’Neill-BHP Billiton connection – let alone the China connection.
PNG prime minister Peter O'Neill has definitely won the confidence of many citizens who want to end any neo-colonial connotations in today's Melanesian vocabulary.
However, sober people (PNG citizens like myself, Australians with PNG connections or Fly River landowners), would nod agreement with Garnaut for his critical comments about mining taxes being misused by PNG politicians and bureaucrats.
Since when has aid money or mining revenues and taxes been sustainably managed and used in PNG?
Speaking about sustainability, though, is Garnaut the person to head a mining company when he has written and advised at length about climate change issues?
On the other hand, is O’Neill the person to shut out technical people and advisors; in this case for a small and honest comment by Garnaut? Many people saw no major fault with it.
Is O’Neill trying to cover up or is he engaged in a political witch-hunt?
All we know, for sure, is that the PNG Sustainable Development Program has not delivered to expectations and Garnaut can take the blame for that.
On the other hand, we must also know that O’Neill, as a person, cannot decide on behalf of the thousands of Fly River people nor for Papua New Guineans.
His job as prime minister does not give him the right to proclaim decisions that go beyond mining and development in PNG.
However, that is the funny way politicians respond in PNG – scolding and rebuking critics while keep dipping their fingers in what they are seemingly there for. That is what defines their ego.
Hence, are we seeing two paradoxical figures in play: Garnaut whose values and qualifications imply anti-mining and promotion of environmental sustainability; and O’Neill who plans to make 2013 a year to fight corruption against a track record of governments that have done so little in this respect.
Garnaut’s comments have been perceived by many people as honest and as showing immense attachment to PNG if somewhat insensitive.
It would be humble for O’Neill, therefore, to swallow his government’s pride, accept the criticisms and bring back Professor Garnaut.